U.S. Protestants lose ground to other faiths

Pew Forum survey says U.S. religious affiliation is changing rapidly. Photo: Shutterstock
Pew Forum survey says U.S. religious affiliation is changing rapidly. Photo: Shutterstock
Published July 25, 2012

A new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that the U.S., once a stronghold of Protestantism, is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country. The number of Americans who report being members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%.

Moreover, the Protestant population is characterized by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, with hundreds of different denominations loosely grouped around three fairly distinct church traditions: evangelical (26.3% of the overall adult population), mainline (18.1%) and historically Black (6.9%). Mainline churches include such established denominations as Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, northern Baptists and Presbyterians; historically black churches include such bodies as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Baptist Convention.

Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans ages 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey http://religions.pewforum.org/reports finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

Currently 78.4% describe themselves as Christian, 1.8% as Jewish, 0.7% as Buddhist, 0.6% as Muslim ad 0.4% as Hindu. Agnostics come in at 2.4% and atheists at 1.6%.

Leaving or switching
More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favour of another religion-or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

The survey also reports that the number of Americans who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18 to 29, one in four is currently unaffiliated with any particular religion.

Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one in three Americans (31%) was raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one in four (24%) is Catholic.

These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration. The survey finds that among the foreign-born adult population, Catholics outnumber Protestants by a nearly a two-to-one margin.
Other findings

? Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation.

? Nearly 20% of men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13% of women.

? Among people who are married, nearly four in 10 (37%) are married to a spouse of a different religious affiliation.

? Hindus and Mormons are the most likely to be married (78% and 71%, respectively) and to be married to someone of the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively).

? Mormons and Muslims have the largest families; more than 20% of Mormon adults and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.




  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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